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  1. THOUGHTS ON CRAFTSMANSHIP This essay was first developed as a response to Al (alde) asking for tips on precision modeling work. I had been reflecting on this myself, and wrote a few ideas. This prompted other members of the Model Ship World community to offer additional ideas. I have pulled these together in this extended essay. They fall into two categories: Attitudes, and Techniques. I am sure there are many additional ideas that could be added here, and perhaps this can be improved upon over time. Mark (SJSoane), working on HMS Bellona, 74. ATTITUDES An ideal of perfection. Good craftsmanship starts with a deep desire to make something as good as one can possibly manage. This is a personal, inner drive, because a good craftsman will aim to make something perfect even when it will never be seen by anyone else. Indeed, the craftsman him or herself may never see it again, as in the case of great detail in a lower deck being covered up permanently by higher decks. When asked why I don’t accept less than perfect work when it will never be seen again, I have to reply that I will KNOW it was not as perfect as I could make it, and that is deeply unsatisfying to me. Patience in achieving perfection, learning from mistakes. Of course, early on, when one’s skills are less developed, the reality of what we achieve is along way from the ideal we desire. This can lead to frustration, even to giving up. It can also lead to inaction, from fear that once we commit and begin to make something, we will quickly see how inadequate it is; better not to attempt it at all. But as Keith (KeithAug) reminds us: “never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” We have to be willing to accept less than perfect, even as we aspire to something better. The key is to try something, possibly fail to meet our own expectations, thoughtfully analyze what went wrong, and then try again. Michael Mott advises not to take it too hard when the desired result looks like a disaster, but to focus on what can be learned. Mark Taylor points out the virtues of a scrap bin, which is the physical history of making mistakes and trying again. Greg (dmv27) points out that some modelers will complete a model at a given level of skill, learn their lessons and move onto the next. Others will tear things apart on the current model and do it again, knowing they can do better a second or third time. One is not any better than the other, as Greg says: ”Chacun a son gout" (to each his own). In his tagline on his build log, Remco (Remcohe) offers the right mental attitude for finding this important patience: “Treat each part as if it is a model on its own, you will finish more models in a day than others do in a lifetime.” I think of this every time I feel myself growing impatient with an imperfect piece that is taking too long to get right. This IS the model, I think thanks to Remco, so take the time to get it right. Vaddoc points out that one needs a calm mind in order the achieve the highest quality, and this can suffer when life’s outside pressures get in the way. I agree, and I have also found that accomplishing something difficult on a model is a nice way to push away or moderate the outside pressures of life. So there is a virtuous circle in attaining higher levels of craftsmanship, if one can get past the initial inertia of an un-calm mind. Vaddoc says, keep building! Practice does get closer to perfect. I was fearful of cutting mortises by hand in my Bellona’s gundeck, because I had not done much of this and I feared I would do it badly (see previous point). Gaetan Bordeleau encouraged me to just get started, because by the time I had cut hundreds of mortises, I would get really good at it. He was right. Skills will noticeably improve if you just keep at it, adjusting your technique as you constantly reflect on what works and what does not. The zen of making. I started modeling as a “bodger”, defined as “a person who makes or repairs something badly or clumsily”. I would grab whatever tool came to hand, not properly secure the workpiece, not have a plan for how to sequence the work, etc. I then worked with a great craftsman on an architectural model with a very tight deadline, and he annoyed me no end in taking up a great deal of time building jigs rather than just building the model. Boy, did I learn the error of my thinking when he started cranking out window frames and doors with greater precision and at a higher speed than we would ever have done making them piece by piece, bodging away. I learned the importance of designing the making process itself, being deliberate and thoughtful in how to make the piece. How will you shape it, how will you hold it while you shape it, can you automate with jigs, etc. Think about it ahead of time, make it an elegant and deliberate process in itself, and you will enjoy undertaking the work even more, while getting even better outcomes. The absolute master of this approach is Ed Tosti, whose build logs and resulting books on the Naiad and Young America offer master classes in how to make jigs, tools and processes for every aspect of modeling. Be sure to read his logs and books for priceless information; he has dramatically helped me improve my own craftsmanship. TECHNIQUES Magnification Greg (dmv27) promotes the use of magnifying lens—he uses 5x Optivisors—and guarantees your work will look better to the naked eye. I have adopted this, adding an additional flip-down loupe and LED lights. It allows me to see my measuring scales more accurately, and it reveals imperfections that are not immediately obvious to the naked eye. And Greg is right; once these are corrected under magnification, they really look better to the naked eye. Another way to use magnification is to take close up photos periodically of your model, at high resolution. You will be amazed what shows up and possibly needs fixing. Indeed, it takes brave modelers to show their work at high resolution on this website, because flaws become so obvious. Accuracy in layout. Beautiful craftsmanship at small scale depends upon accurate fitting of parts. Loose joints, ragged edges, all betray poor craftsmanship. So how to achieve accuracy? It starts with precise setting out. As druxey will always remind us, use a very sharp, hard pencil when laying things out. An unsharp or soft pencil lead can be 2” at my current scale of 3/16” = 1’-0”. When requiring high precision, mark out with a scalpel or exacto blade. This has the added advantage of providing a highly accurate place to register your chisel when cutting. Ed Tosti advises always to use a center punch to mark for drilling, to avoid the drill wandering off mark. Fit pieces to each other. Mark a piece against another piece, for example, lay the actual carling against the beam when cutting its mortise, rather than using a scale to mark what the mortise is supposed to be. The carling is probably slightly over or undersized relative to what it ought to be by scale, but it will not matter because the joint was marked to match its real size. And when getting a curved piece of wood to lay against another curved piece, like in planking, slip artist’s graphite transfer paper between the two so one will mark high points on the other than can be shaved down. After trial and error test and shave, test and shave, you will obtain a perfect fit. Use long battens or card templates to maintain a fair line for small parts. Many ship constructions, like the carlings in a deck, or the wales, are made up of many small objects fitted end to end. Without a bigger guide, it is very easy to get these slightly out of whack as each individual part is installed, and the end result is a sloppy, unfair line. Long battens and templates let you see where the part has to go—precisely—to maintain a fair line the length of the ship. Obtain and use good files. I found it hard to use files at the start. Through a lot of trial and error, I discovered the virtues of using very good files (sharp and consistent); of using coarse, medium and fine files (using too fine a file at the start leads to impatience and sloppiness when it takes so long, while too coarse a file at the end leaves a rough surface and edge); and of learning to “register” the file against the surface before filing, to keep the surface level. It is too, too, easy to round things over with a file because of the slight rocking motion of the hand. Be consciously aware of keeping the file level. I often draw hatch lines on the surface I am filing, so I can check periodically to see that the hatch lines are coming off uniformly and not just one one side or corner. If I need to angle a surface slightly, I watch for the hatch lines to come off evenly at one side. With good file work, you can make just about anything fit extremely precisely. Sand against templates or flat surfaces. Holding a piece of sandpaper in the hand and rubbing against your piece will almost always lead to rounded edges. Far better to glue the sandpaper to a larger sanding surface, and rub the work against the sanding surface. For long pieces with a set radius like gundeck clamps or the tops of wales, I draw the exact curve needed on a piece of wood, cut with a jigsaw, then put sandpaper on the edge of one piece to use as a template for sanding the edge of the other piece. Reverse and sand the first side, and you have two templates, concave and convex, which match perfectly. Put sandpaper one each, and rub your workpieces along the length to obtain a perfect radius surface with no rounded edges. Similarly, glue sandpaper of different grits to flat sheets of plywood. Rub the piece on this surface, and you can avoid rounding over. Trim a composite assembly after assembled. Let’s say you want to glue together two pieces of wood at right angles, for example, the framing of a hatch. If you cut each piece precisely to the right length and then glue together, there is a more than even chance they will not precisely line up after gluing. Better to make one side slightly oversize, and then file it down to match the other side after they are glued together. Clamping and gluing. Always dry fit an assembly before gluing. This helps ensure that a part really does fit, and you work out the process in which you will clamp before the glue is on and starting to set. There is no panic quite like having a piece start to set up and you can’t pull the joint together, or you realize you need an additional clamp that you can’t quite find at the moment. Use a slower setting glue, like Titebond III, if you have a really complex setup. I recently had a problem of how to clamp a plank in a wale at the bow, where no clamp or jig could be devised. Greg (dmv27) gave me a successful tip, which was to apply superglue in little dots interspersed with the carpenter’s wood glue. Pressing the piece against the hull by hand for a few minutes allowed the superglue to set, which then acted like a clamp for the wood glue. Without this, I would have had sloppy joints to the next plank, and no way to fix it. Finally, Greg offers another tip he got from druxey, which is to clean off every joint before the glue sets, using a cup of water and a small brush. Smeared glue, or even worse, dried glue blobs, are hard to remove afterwards, and definitely reduce the quality of craftsmanship.
  2. Sherline mill and lathe questions

    I mounted my lathe and mill on laminate MDF as Doug just showed; nice surface for cleaning up. And after previously experimenting with tools in drawers, I more recently tried mounting them all on the wall, where I could see them all. I prefer this method now. Mark
  3. Choosing chisels

    A couple of further thoughts on chisels, I do use small chisels, for example, in the hundreds of mortises in the gun deck framing below. The dockyard chisel shown works very well. Also, I use a strop with green compound, and strop my chisels large and small every few cuts. It helps maintain the sharpened edge, and I can really feel the difference when the chisel is freshly stropped. Sharp makes all the difference in the world when cutting miniature joinery! Mark
  4. Choosing chisels

    I concur with druxey's recommendation on Veritas. Equivalent quality at Lie-Nielsen, which is what I now use. The virtue of a good chisel is that it can be sharpened well, and then keep its edge. My experience with too many cheap chisels that I have bought over the years is that they don't sharpen well or hold their edges for very long. I wish I had bought good chisels the first time; the number of cheap chisels I ended up throwing away could have paid for the good ones to last the rest of my life. Also, when I started on my ship model at 3/16" scale, I thought that I would mainly need small chisels, like the Dockyard sets. I use these, and they are good. But I have found that the vast majority of my chisel work uses standard sizes, mostly ¾" and ½". This is because the larger chisel has a wide face that you can more easily align to a cutting line. Too narrow a chisel, and you can't see if it is parallel to your intended cut. Also, a good polish on a wide chisel allows you to use it as mirror to ensure that the chisel is being held absolutely vertical to a cut. The great books by David Antscherl on the Fully Framed Model, and Ed Tosti's books on his projects, give very good advice on how to cut miniature joinery with large chisels. I have tried no end of sharpening techniques, and have personally settled on waterstones with a Veritas Mark II guide. I never could make an oilstone work, but each to his or her own preferences. Mark

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